We take a closer look at new Borussia Dortmund signing Axel Witsel – a strong character with a special mentality that was developed after a horror tackle back in 2009.
|Axel Witsel (left) with Dries Mertens.||Photo: Кирилл Венедиктов/Soccer.ru/CC-by-SA 3.0|
It's the 30th of August 2009, and a 20-year-old Axel Witsel is playing for Standard Liege in a league game against Anderlecht in his home country Belgium.
Midway through the first half, Witsel throws himself into a tackle with a sliding Marcin Wasilewski. The Anderlecht defender is first to the ball, but Witsel carries out his challenge and plants his studs directly on the leg of his opponent. Wasilewski is screaming in agony with his foot dangling, and Witsel is shown a straight red card.
Later, it turned out that Wasilewski had suffered a double leg-break while Witsel received eight days suspension for the horror tackle. However, it wasn't just the tackle itself, but the storm of indignation directed at Witsel that would change his life forever.
Witsel was quick to show remorse and empathy and apologized to Wasilewski and his family at the hospital. Still, the midfielder came under heavy fire in the media. Meanwhile, he received death threats while a group of Anderlecht fans showed up at his parents' house to show their indignation.
The unwanted attention changed the young Axel Witsel forever.
"People insulted him, some even threw stones through our windows", Axel Witsel's dad told The Guardian and added:
"The incident has changed Axel. There is an Axel before the tackle, and an Axel after. His character became more closed. You could see in his face that he was touched by the storm around him. That lasted a few days and then he made the switch. He has created a thick skin and became mentally strong and balanced. No one can drive him crazy anymore."
Witsel stayed in Belgium until 2011 when he joined Benfica. After spending one season in Portugal, he went on to sign for Zenit Saint Petersburg where the dynamic midfielder evolved into an important player in the middle of the park.
After spending some fairly quiet years in Russia, Witsel was again subject to criticism in January 2017 – this time because of a transfer. The Belgian international could have joined Juventus in Italy, but instead opted to sign for Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian – a move that that many deemed uambitious and motivated by money.
"It was a very difficult decision because on one hand there was a great team and a top club like Juventus. But on the other hand, there was a crucial offer for my family that I couldn't turn down," Witsel told Tuttosport back then.
However, Witsel would eventually get to miss playing in Europe and says he is happy to now have joined Borussia Dortmund after a strong World Cup with Belgium.
"After the World Cup, I was determined to transfer back to Europe. I am really happy and also proud that I will soon be able to play for BVB," Witsel told bvb.de and added:
"I didn’t have to think about it for very long after our first discussion because Borussia Dortmund is one of the best clubs on the continent in my opinion. I honestly cannot wait to run out in front of 81,000 people."
Here's a video of Witsel's horror tackle from 2009: